I was enamored with folk and fairy tales when I was younger. One of my English teachers had an unabridged version of Grimm's fairy tales, which I picked through carefully, fascinated by the twisted combinations of darkness and light it told of. It was a reality that I could barely comprehend, both the stories themselves and the idea that people actually believed and recounted them to each other. But that was part of what fascinated me about it so much. Just as the people in the tales were faced with a fairy world they could not avoid, I felt I couldn't avoid the intrigues of the stories. I could easily understand what made Hans Christian Andersen write his eerie tales, and when another teacher had a book of Scandinavian fairy tales in his library, I devoured that as well.
So it should come as no surprise that I like Susanna and The Magical Orchestra. From the first instant Susanna Wallumrod starts to sing, backed by Morten Qvenild's light and intricate keyboarding, it is like you've stepped into an enchanted forest. This is both beautiful and frightening, as the rules of the fairy world are not the same as those that apply to the human world. The beauty itself is a trick, a way of lulling you into pliancy in order to convince you to go along with whatever absurd things the peculiar creatures who inhabit it want you to go along with.
It is truly amazing what they do to the Dolly Parton song "Jolene." I've never heard the original; in fact, when I first heard this version of it, I made fun of the lyrics as being very "old country." But now that I know that that is, indeed, they're origin, I feel free to enjoy them. And I can't imagine Dolly Parton ever being able to move me this much. Coupled with such beautiful music and Wallumrod's entrancing voice, this is the song of a woman who doesn't realize her own beauty. While she's begging Jolene, "Please don't take him/ Even though you can," I get the feeling that Jolene knows better than to try to tear a man away from such an amazing woman. Jolene may be beautiful, but there is something within Wallumrod's voice that suggests that she, herself, is really the one who could have her choice of men. Maybe it's just that I hate the stand-by-and-watch-as-your-man-leaves attitude of old country songs like this, but this seems a very feminist remake of it.
"Friend" is an intriguing song as well. It sounds something like a milder form of Bj?rk at many points; Qvenild's bloopy backdrop resembles Bj?rk's "Hunter," but it isn't an imitation. Wallumrod doesn't sing in the erratic way that Bj?rk does, especially in the chorus. She sticks to the melody, instead, sounding less like a crazed pixie and more like a regular woman who is merely keeping calm in the midst of a strange storm. She becomes the protagonist of many of the stranger fairy tales I've read, who sees all the bad things that happen to her as merely things that happen in life, and perseveres through it. After all, the only other choice is death, whether actual death or a death of the self. "This life is just for living./ I can't tell you what it will bring./ There are good times, there are hard times/ There are reasons why we cling/ To what we want to be/ What we want to see," she sings, comforting herself in spite of confusion and trauma. It almost makes me want to cry.
"List of Lights and Buoys" is a mystical forest haunted by peculiar beings. But, unlike the dangerous forests of old European fairy tales, the beauty you find here is not dangerous. Unless you're uncomfortable with emotion, and then your own ogres will gnaw at your bones. 8/10 -- Eden Hemming Rose (25 May, 2005)